McLellan: 'The confidence is going up'
The Sharks battled back in the third period to tie the game and eventually won in a shootout, 3-2. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN JOSE – One of the biggest reasons for the Sharks’ recent success was the unexpected move of putting defenseman Brent Burns at forward, where he collected 10 points in nine games.
Although the Sharks entered their game on Saturday against Phoenix on a three-game winning streak, there is still a sense of fragility surrounding the club, which has experienced such dramatic highs and lows already in this condensed season. Any sudden movements – like putting Burns back on defense, where he’s been so-so – might send the club scurrying back into the corner again.
Against Phoenix on Saturday night at HP Pavilion, though, the Sharks battled back in the third period to tie the game and eventually won in a shootout, 3-2, to increase their winning streak to four.
Burns, who was forced back to the blue line because of an injury to Jason Demers, didn’t play much of a role. In fact, he was on the ice when Radim Vrbata got wide open between the circles early in the third period to give the Coyotes the lead. But, the Sharks still rolled four generally effective lines, outshot Phoenix 34-29, and probably had the better of the scoring chances, too.
“It doesn’t really come into effect, we know we can win and we know they’re a good team. You saw Burnzie went back, and we still were a fast team and executed in a lot of areas,” said Joe Pavelski, whose second period goal tied the game at 1-1 and increased his goal-scoring streak to four games.
Joe Thornton, who had been centering the top line with Burns on the wing, said: “We missed him up front, but everybody stuck together and played hard.”
A couple weeks ago, the Sharks might not have found a way to respond from an early third period tiebreaker. Against the Coyotes, they found the equalizer on Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s outstanding one-man effort. The defenseman, celebrating his 26th birthday, fired a shot on goal, got his own rebound, fed Pavelski at the side of the net, and then jammed in Pavelski’s rebound with five minutes left in regulation.
“It should be my birthday more often around here. It’s nice to score on your birthday, you give yourself a present,” Vlasic joked.
He continued: “When they get the lead, they’re hard to play against. We needed to throw pucks on net. I did that twice, Pavs did that, and we got a goal. It was a good comeback for us after they scored at the beginning of the third.”
Logan Couture took it from there. The Sharks were shorthanded for the final 13 seconds of overtime, when Ryane Clowe tripped Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They lost the offensive zone faceoff, but Couture sacrificed his body by diving in front of Vrbata’s one-timer. The puck trickled out to the neutral zone and time expired.
In the shootout, Couture found daylight between the legs of Jason LaBarbara in what was the only goal of the skills competition.
“Just went with speed,” Couture said of his breakaway. “[LaBarbara is] a big guy. Stopped up a bit and saw some room in the five-hole, and was able to put it there.”
The Sharks improved to 11-1-4 at home, and took over sole possession of sixth place in the Western Conference with 40 points. It’s their longest winning streak of the season since they won their first seven games.
Confidence is growing, as evidenced by the third period comeback.
“From where it was at the low point, you can feel it going up,” Todd McLellan said. “A lot of good things were said as soon as we go down. Guys stuck with the game plan, for the most part. I think when you start wandering from that your confidence is low, you begin to cheat and it just becomes more frustrating.”
Couture said: “We’re a confident team in here. We didn’t sag on the bench; we stayed up and kept going after them. We knew we were playing well.”
While increasing their own chances for the postseason, the Sharks did serious damage to Phoenix’s hopes. The Coyotes lost for the eighth time in the last nine games, and although they are just two points behind eighth seeded St. Louis, they are in 13th place in the conference.
“You get a little bit more space in between another team. Another game goes by, and we’re that much closer to the playoffs,” Pavelski said.
Thornton said: “You see the teams behind you, and you’d like not to give them any points at all, but you’d still got to beat them. Even though it’s a shootout win, it’s huge not giving them the two points. Keep those teams behind us for right now.”
Just what McLellan does from here in regards to his lineup is anyone’s guess, as defenseman Matt Tennyson is en route from Worcester and could allow Burns to go back to forward. McLellan can at least take comfort in the fact that he’s won games lately with a couple of different looks.
“Nice to see us dig in and come back and find a way to get the two points,” he said.